Recently I’ve rediscovered Viki, a site I often visited in college when I was due (or not) for a study break. Suffice it to say that I am open to all kinds of life advice (quit your job, travel, don’t quit your job, etc.), but I tend to ignore the occasional “don’t waste your time on TV” line that shows up in listicles.
Viki’s layout has changed a bit since I first started using it to watch my beloved Asian shows, while the offering has expanded significantly. You can find content from Korea, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, and more places. Put it another way, Viki has made content that may be filed under niche genres in other SVOD services into its main value proposition.
With their international expansion, Netflix has stepped up its efforts to bring in just this type of global content. Viki’s original show Dramaworld has started streaming on the SVOD giant’s site, and Netflix is also looking to license Descendants of the Sun, a Korean show already on Viki. On first glance, these content plays make obvious sense for Asian markets, but explore the comments section under any episode on Viki. You’ll find discussion among fans in English, Spanish, Russian, and some Slavic languages I can’t name. It’s proof that TV can bring the world together (no drama intended).
This phenomenon becomes abundantly clear when a South Korean pop star carries a huge part of the draw to God of War, Zhao Yun, a Chinese martial arts fantasy. Girls’ Generation member Yoona is heavily featured in the marketing materials, and at least when I watched the first episode, the comments in the video player were from fans clamoring for her first line. (Spoiler: she does not show up yet.) It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they were watching the show only because of her. This cross-pollination is not new though, as South Korean pop groups often include members from China, Thailand, and elsewhere.
Towards the end of the episode, I kind of felt the same. My curiosity about when she’d make her appearance was what kept me watching. There is a slight Game of Thrones aspect to the saga, but only slight. I realized halfway through that I just couldn’t connect with the story, and I was plain confused by some bits.
At one point, our gang of heroes come across an imposing white tiger mom who leads them to a trap, where she implies that she needs their help extracting her babies safely. They do, and a sentimental moment ensues as they acknowledge each other and separate on their respective paths once more. Perhaps the symbolism will come through later on in the series.
A strength contest occurs in the Chinese emperor’s court, where soldiers magically lift a heavy metal cauldron with their bare hands. For Godfrey Gao’s character (you may know him as Magnus Bane in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones movie), he does this with one hand. I’ve been away from the fantasy genre for a while, it seems!
You also can’t ignore the lavish and grand production design, and the language is incredibly poetic. It’s escapist drama at its best, although it still requires a significant suspension of disbelief. All the hallmarks of a classic Chinese period (and therefore, costume) drama are there, but now they’ve been upgraded for the modern omni-Asian entertainment fan. They may study Chinese in school because it’s the business language of the future, listen to Korean pop in the car, and have a passion for Tex-Mex. …Or maybe I just described myself!
Also published on Medium.